Q&A: Todd M. Johnson
Who would be better equipped to write legal thrillers than a trial lawyer? With more than 30 years of experience in the courtroom, Todd M. Johnson has a wealth of experience to draw on as he pens his debut novel, The Deposit Slip.
The Deposit Slip was inspired by an actual case which my partner handled in the late 1990s. In the original case, the amount at issue was a million dollars, which was the amount printed on a deposit ticket issued by a northern Minnesota bank. In the actual case, the deposit ticket had no account number – the result of which was that the case was eventually dismissed for lack of evidence.
Beyond the concept for the story, the rest of The Deposit Slip was fiction – with the exception of the town of Ashley, mentioned below.
WHAT WAS THE MOST CHALLENGING PART OF WRITING THE BOOK?
The most challenging element was having a story which accurately tracked the civil legal process – making that part of the drama - without bogging the reader down in legal minutiae. Bringing characters to life is also a challenging process for a new novelist, but I found that once a character started to settle into the story, he or she took on a life of their own.
WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES FROM THE STORY WHERE YOU DREW ELEMENTS FROM REAL LIFE?
The town of Ashley was based upon the town in which I grew up: Geneseo, Illinois. My brothers and I have always agreed that Geneseo was a special small town in which to “come of age”. The Orsi and Green drug store/cafe, the Cellar restaurant, the movie theatre, and most importantly the bank were all real fixtures of Geneseo. (A visit to our old home town a few years ago confirmed that The Cellar, bank and even the movie theatre are still going strong.)
I also borrowed names for characters from stable hands at the stable where my daughter rides horses – though I cautioned each of the persons that their characters were not intended to track their own personalities. Along those same lines, with my daughter’s permission, I used her middle name for a principal character: Erin.
The personification of the large law firm was an amalgam of the worst aspects of big firm practice that I had witnessed through the years – though I hasten to add that no firm I actually worked at even remotely resembled Marcus Stanford’s law firm.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE READERS GET OUT OF YOUR WORK?
First and foremost, a good read that did not disappoint and which kept the reader guessing to the end. Second, my faith perspective that forgiveness is hard work for both sides and can take time, but is always achievable. Third, that achieving justice is equally hard work – and that even in the American system, it is at times more dependent upon personality and strategy than what is written in the statute and case books.
WHAT PROJECTS RE YOU WORKING ON NOW?
I’m currently working on my second book for my publisher. It is another legal thriller, tentatively titled Criticality. The story follows workers at a mothballed plutonium factory exposed to a plume of gas and smoke, the contents of which are unknown, caused by an explosion at the contaminated facility. This book is also inspired by a case which I worked on in the 1990s.